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Recognizing the warning signs of domestic violence and abuse

It's impossible to know with certainty what goes on behind closed doors, but there are some telltale signs and symptoms of emotional abuse and domestic violence. If you witness any warning signs of abuse in a friend, family member, or co-worker, take them very seriously.

General warning signs of domestic abuse

People who are being abused may:

  • Seem afraid or anxious to please their partner.
  • Go along with everything their partner says and does.
  • Check in often with their partner to report where they are and what they’re doing.
  • Receive frequent, harassing phone calls from their partner.
  • Talk about their partner’s temper, jealousy, or possessiveness.

Warning signs of physical violence

People who are being physically abused may:

  • Have frequent injuries, with the excuse of “accidents.”
  • Frequently miss work, school, or social occasions, without explanation.
  • Dress in clothing designed to hide bruises or scars (e.g. wearing long sleeves in the summer or sunglasses indoors).

Warning signs of isolation

People who are being isolated by their abuser may:

  • Be restricted from seeing family and friends.
  • Rarely go out in public without their partner.
  • Have limited access to money, credit cards, or the car.

The psychological warning signs of abuse

People who are being abused may:

  • Have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident.
  • Show major personality changes (e.g. an outgoing person becomes withdrawn).
  • Be depressed, anxious, or suicidal.

Speak up if you suspect domestic violence or abuse

If you suspect that someone you know is being abused, speak up! If you’re hesitating—telling yourself that it’s none of your business, you might be wrong, or the person might not want to talk about it—keep in mind that expressing your concern will let the person know that you care and may even save his or her life.

Do's and Don'ts

Do:

  • Ask if something is wrong.
  • Express concern.
  • Listen and validate.
  • Offer help.
  • Support his or her decisions.

Don’t:

  • Wait for him or her to come to you.
  • Judge or blame.
  • Pressure him or her.
  • Give advice.
  • Place conditions on your support.

Adapted from: NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Talk to the person in private and let him or her know that you’re concerned. Point out the things you’ve noticed that make you worried. Tell the person that you’re there, whenever he or she feels ready to talk. Reassure the person that you’ll keep whatever is said between the two of you, and let him or her know that you’ll help in any way you can.

Domestic Violence and Abuse ©Helpguide.org. All rights reserved. Visit WWW.HELPGUIDE.ORG for more information and related articles.

Ways You Can Help

Here are some ways to help a friend who is being abused:

  • Set up a time to talk. Try to make sure you have privacy and won't be distracted or interrupted.
  • Let your friend know you're concerned about their safety. Be honest. Tell them about times when you were worried about them. Help them see that what she's going through is not right. Let her know you want to help.
  • Be supportive. Listen to your friend. Keep in mind that it may be very hard for them to talk about the abuse. Tell her that they is not alone, and that people want to help.
  • Offer specific help. You might say you are willing to just listen, to help them with childcare, or to provide transportation, for example.
  • Don't place shame, blame, or guilt on your friend. Don't say, "You just need to leave." Instead, say something like, "I get scared thinking about what might happen to you." Tell them you understand that her situation is very difficult.
  • Help them make a safety plan. Safety planning includes picking a place to go and packing important items. Find out more about safety planning.
  • Encourage your friend to talk to someone who can help. Offer to help them find a local domestic violence agency. Offer to go with her to the agency, the police, or court.
  • If your friend decides to stay, continue to be supportive. Your friend may decide to stay in the relationship, or they may leave and then go back many times. It may be hard for you to understand, but people stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Be supportive, no matter what your friend decides to do.
  • Encourage your friend to do things outside of the relationship. It's important for her to see friends and family.
  • If your friend decides to leave, continue to offer support. Even though the relationship was abusive, they may feel sad and lonely once it is over. She also may need help getting services from agencies or community groups.
  • Keep in mind that you can't "rescue" your friend. They has to be the one to decide it's time to get help. Support them no matter what her decision.
  • Let your friend know that you will always be there no matter what.

Remember, abusers are very good at controlling and manipulating their victims. People who have been emotionally abused or battered are depressed, drained, scared, ashamed, and confused. They need help to get out, yet they’ve often been isolated from their family and friends. By picking up on the warning signs and offering support, you can help them escape an abusive situation and begin healing.

Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, womenshealth.gov